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University of Warwick awarded £2 million to fight disease in East Africa

The University of Warwick has been awarded £2 million to tackle the spread of viruses in East Africa.

The research has been commissioned by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) using Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding. Research facilitates the improvement of health and wealth of the nation, in accordance with the NIHR’s aims.

The £2 million has been awarded to the NIHR Global Health Research Group on the Application of Genomics and Modelling to the Control of Virus Pathogens (GeMVi) in East Africa at Warwick University.

GeMVi combines expertise in pathogen sequencing and predicative modelling.

Matt Keeling, Professor of Life Sciences and Director of the University of Warwick’s Zeeman Institute, said that with the funding, “GeMVi will engage health authorities and institutes, identify priority questions and link output to policy.

“We will also fund 20 high calibre research fellows on locally relevant projects.

“Ultimately GeMVi aims at provision of evidence for intervention decisions, a sustainable collaborative network in the region, and an alliance on virus prevention and control preparedness.”

Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the University of Warwick, James Nokes explains pathogen sequencing as identifying “the unique genetic code of the virus by which to track its spread into and within a community and from person to person”.

He continued: “Predictive modelling involves simulating the spread of the virus pathogen in a community using a mathematical representation or model and then applying a variety of control strategies to explore the potential impact on disease.

“Both of these sorts of outputs are of use in making public health decisions on optimal ways to control infection spread.”

The decision to focus on East Africa was made by researchers because the area has thus far suffered from lack of funding, technology and specific skills.

The funded project will aim to increase the use of modern sequencing, bioinformatic and modelling tools against the spread of disease in East Africa. The decision to focus on East Africa was made by researchers because the area has thus far suffered from lack of funding, technology and specific skills.

University researchers will collaborate with new partners in East Africa on the project, including Uganda Virus Research Institute and Makerere University in Uganda and Kilimanjaro Clinical Research Institute in Tanzania.

Nokes said: “In this field, despite high disease burden, low income countries have been left behind.

“Decisions on how to prevent, reduce or constrain disease arising from viruses (e.g. seasonal or pandemic influenza), requires evidence on the pathogen responsible, where it came from, how effectively it spreads, and the potential implications of various interventions.

“Modern methods are now available to rapidly identify and sequence the genetic code of a virus by which, together with epidemiological data (e.g. time and location of cases), to track from where it came and how it is spreading, and with statistical and mathematical methods, explore the potential impact of options for control that can support public health control measures.”

East African research fellows with expertise in pathogen sequencing or predictive modelling applied to local public-health problems are now being recruited by GeMVi.


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